Gary Linehan, The Union Democrat

Imagine this:It's Dec. 3, 1947 - a Wednesday and warm outside for New York at this time of year. It's minutes before curtain time at the Ethyl Barrymore Theater. You are about to see a play whose working title was "Poker Night."

Thirty-six year old playwright Tennessee Williams chats nervously with director Elia Kazan in the lobby. Maybe they shouldn't have cast these unknowns - Marlon Brando, Jessica Tandy, Kim Hunter and Karl Malden.

Maybe they should have stayed in out-of-town tryouts longer.

Maybe "A Streetcar Named Desire" wasn't ready.

Little did anyone know a volcanic explosion was about to take place. A seismic eruption that would change the face of theater forever.

Stage 3 Theater Company has smuggled that power into its intimate downtown Sonora space and plans to detonate it for a whole new generation.

"A Streetcar Named Desire" opens Friday, directed by Maryann Curmi and featuring a cast determined to reveal Williams' magic.

Critics called "Streetcar" "Throbbingly alive, compassionate, heartbreakingly human" (N.Y. Daily News) or just simply "Enthralling" (Variety).

"Honestly, I was terrified," Curmi confessed when describing her feelings about helming the production. "It seems that everyone knows of the play or has seen the film. Everyone but me, that is."

She believes being totally fresh to the script has worked in her favor.

"Williams' writing is so strong and so thoroughly complete," she said. "Since I had no basis of comparison, I was free to let the script and our work together in rehearsals guide me. It's very exciting, almost as if Williams is in the room and we all are creating this for the first time. This 'Streetcar' will be something that no one's ever seen before. Be prepared for a steamy, sultry and even seedy side of the play."

Thomas Lanier Williams was born in 1911 in Columbus, Miss. A sickly child, he was given a typewriter at an early age. He began writing plays at college - where he picked up the nickname "Tennessee" because of his accent - but enjoyed little success until "The Glass Menagerie" became a huge Broadway hit.

He has since become generally regarded as one of the world's great playwrights. He is best known for "Menagerie," "Streetcar," "Cat on a Hot Tin Roof," "Sweet Bird of Youth," "Summer and Smoke" and "The Night of the Iguana" among others.

Despite his success, Williams struggled with fame and suffered from alcoholism, drug use and depression. He died in 1983.

Stage 3 Artistic Director Don Bilotti said "Maryann took great care in casting and that meticulous work has paid off."

Joe Conn takes the role of Stanley Kowalski, the swaggering, stormy, vulnerable and endearing male center of the play.

He brings to the role a wealth of experience from New York to the West Coast. He has played a variety of roles at Stage 3, appearing in "The Grapes of Wrath," "The Sunshine Boys" and "Over the River and through the Woods."

He has had the role in his crosshairs for some time and it was his suggestion that originally caused the play to be produced at the theater, Bilotti said.

Traci Sprague and Krista Serpa are inhabiting the roles of Blanche Dubois and Stella Kowalski.

Sprague, artistic director of CenterStage in Modesto, still somehow finds time to work with Stage 3. She previously has been seen in "Brighton Beach Memoirs" and "Other Desert Cities" at Stage 3.

Serpa, who is in great demand for her singing voice, is making her first appearance at Stage 3. Playing lead roles in musicals gives her the chance to exhibit her straight dramatic chops.

Benjamin Adriano plays Mitch, the shy, gentle giant of a man who falls for Blanche. Adriano has appeared in numerous productions at Stage 3. A busy regional actor, he was last seen in "Tuesdays with Morrie."

"The strong supporting cast gives you an idea of the depth of the cast," Curmi said.

Michael Lynch and Francine Lamiere are playing upstairs neighbors Steve and Eunice. Also featured playing multiple roles are Mike Moon, Mikki Williams, Susan Chapman, Glenn Meadows and Sherry Dumos.

Ron Cotnam provides set design, costume designer is Linda Glick, assisted by Diana Newington, and lights are designed by Matthew Leamy. Brie Miller is the stage managed.

This production is made possible in part by associate producers Ken and Christina Caetano.

"A Streetcar Named Desire" will run through Oct. 13 at 208 S. Green St. in downtown Sonora. Curtain times are 7 p.m. Thursday, Friday and Saturday and 2 p.m. Sunday.

Tickets are $20 on Thursdays, $22 on Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays. Senior Sundays are $20 and students are always $12.

Call 536?1778 or visit for reservations or more information.